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Saturday, March 18, 2023

Arbitration Appeals Before SCT in Coinbase v. Bielski

The Supreme Court will hear argument this Tuesday March 21 in Coinbase, Inc. v. Bielski, in which the issue centers on appeals of district court rulings denying motions to compel arbitration. 

The Federal Arbitration Act generally enforces arbitration agreements, and it does so not with the usual remedy for breach of contract, which is money damages, but with a stronger remedy—specific performance. The Federal Arbitration Act does this by instructing district courts to grant motions to stay litigation and compel arbitration of claims the parties agreed to arbitrate.[1]

In further support of arbitration is the Federal Arbitration Act’s appeals structure. FAA § 16 makes immediately appealable district court orders denying motions to compel arbitration,[2] but not orders granting them.[3] So, if the district court rules for arbitration, the parties go to arbitration, instead of appealing the district court’s pro-arbitration ruling to the circuit court. But if the district court rules against arbitration, then the party seeking arbitration is entitled to an interlocutory appeal to ask the circuit court to reverse the district court’s anti-arbitration ruling, and thus to compel arbitration. So, the party seeking arbitration can get the dispute to arbitration by winning at either district or appellate court, but the party opposing arbitration has to win at both courts if the pro-arbitration side appeals.

All that is established by statute, while the question in this Supreme Court case, Coinbase, Inc. v. Bielski, is narrower. It’s a question about staying the district court pending appeal. If the district court rules against arbitration and the party seeking arbitration exercises its right to an interlocutory appeal, may the district court proceed on other issues in the case while that appeal about arbitration is pending; or is the district court automatically stayed with respect to the entire case pending appeal? That’s the question the Supreme Court has set for argument on March 21.

In this case, Coinbase, Inc. v. Bielski, the plaintiff Bielski sued Coinbase for violations of the Electronic Funds Transfer Act.[4] Coinbase then moved to stay the litigation and compel arbitration pursuant to the arbitration clause in the Coinbase User Agreement that Bielski had signed. However, the district court denied Coinbase’s motion to compel arbitration because the district court held that the arbitration agreement was unconscionable.[5]

Coinbase filed an interlocutory appeal to the Ninth Circuit requesting a stay of the district court proceedings pending that appeal, and Coinbase asked the district court to stay its proceedings pending the resolution of that appeal. The district court denied Coinbase’s motion for a stay pending appeal because, it said, Bielski “would suffer if forced to wait for a remedy” on Bielski’s underlying suit about the Funds Transfer Act.[6]

The Ninth Circuit also refused Coinbase’s request for a stay of the district court pending appeal,[7] so Coinbase petitioned the Supreme Court. Coinbase asks the Supreme Court to decide whether a non-frivolous appeal of the denial of a motion to compel arbitration oust[s] a district court’s jurisdiction to proceed with litigation pending appeal.[8] Or as Bielski puts it, the question before the Supreme Court is whether “an interlocutory appeal of a denial of a motion to compel arbitration … require[s] an automatic stay of all district court proceedings pending appeal?”[9]

The federal circuit courts have split on this question, with the Second and Fifth Circuits joining the Ninth. These three circuits hold that an appeal of the district court’s refusal to compel arbitration does not automatically stay the district court pending appeal.

But most circuits hold to the contrary. The Third, Fourth, Seventh, Tenth, Eleventh, and D.C. Circuits hold that appeal of a district court’s refusal to compel arbitration does divest the district court of jurisdiction pending appeal.

When we look at the two sides of this circuit split, we can see it arising in the 1990s in a pretty familiar way, which is the progressive or anti-arbitration position is first taken by the Ninth Circuit out on the Left Coast, while the conservative or pro-arbitration position is first taken by the Seventh Circuit in an opinion by Judge Frank Easterbrook—who by the way was my Civil Procedure professor at the University of Chicago.

Part of the context for this circuit split is the general rule in federal court that “[t]he filing of a notice of appeal . . . divests the district court of its control over those aspects of the case involved in the appeal.” That’s a quote from the Supreme Court’s 1982 decision in Griggs v. Provident Consumer Discount Co.[10] So, in that Griggs framework, the question in this Coinbase case is whether appeal of a denied motion to compel arbitration divests the district court of the non-arbitration merits of the case (about the Funds Transfer Act) while the circuit court is deciding whether to affirm or reverse the district court’s refusal to compel arbitration.

In one sense, the alleged violation of the Funds Transfer Act is not involved in the appeal because the appeal is just about whether to enforce the arbitration agreement. But in another sense, any litigation of the Funds Transfer Act claim or any other claim, even just taking a deposition or other discovery, would be the district court exercising control over aspects of the case involved in the appeal—because everything in litigation is involved in the appeal of whether the case will be resolved by litigation or arbitration. For example, maybe arbitration will have narrower discovery than litigation would, so an arbitrator would not order a deposition that the district court would order.

The Ninth Circuit takes the first of those views. It said not everything involved in the case is involved in the appeal of refusing to compel arbitration, and the contrary rule urged by [defendants] would allow a defendant to stall a trial simply by bringing a frivolous motion to compel arbitration.”[11] The Ninth Circuit said,

The system created by the Federal Arbitration Act allows the district court to evaluate the merits of [a motion for arbitration], and if, for instance, the court finds that the motion presents a substantial question, to stay the proceedings pending an appeal from its refusal to compel arbitration.[12]  

In other words, the Ninth Circuit says, whether to stay pending appeal is a proper subject for the exercise of discretion by the trial court.

In contrast, most circuit courts to have considered the issue hold that a nonfrivolous appeal from a district court order denying arbitration automatically divests the district court of jurisdiction of the case pending appeal. In other words, the interlocutory appeal stays litigation in district court until the Court of Appeals resolves the appeal.

This view traces back at least to Judge Easterbrook’s 1997 opinion, which says that denying such a stay would "largely defeat[] the point of the appeal."[13] Which is to decide if the case will be litigated or arbitrated--before incurring the costs of starting the litigation or arbitration. As the Eleventh Circuit said in support of this view, whether the case will be litigated or arbitrated is a “threshold issue” that should be resolved first. Or as the Tenth Circuit said, also in support of this Easterbrook view, failing to grant a stay pending appeal would deny the defendant’s "legal entitlement to avoidance of litigation" if it turns out the defendant had that entitlement to arbitrate, which we won’t know until the circuit court rules.

So, we can see the issue in this Coinbase case as a policy question of which kind of errors should courts make. Should courts make plaintiffs wait to litigate until after an appeal that affirms the district court’s ruling that the plaintiff has a right to litigate rather than arbitrate? Or should courts make defendants litigate until an appeal reverses the district court’s erroneous ruling that the plaintiff has to litigate instead of arbitrate?

As to statutory text, Bielski’s brief in the Supreme Court points out that if Congress enacting FAA § 16 had wanted to require a stay pending appeal, it could have done so. It knew how to do so, because FAA § 3 expressly requires stays of litigation pending arbitration, so “Congress's silence regarding stays in Section 16 is deafening,” Bielski’s brief says.

In contrast, Coinbase’s brief says “in enacting this [FAA § 16] text, Congress legislated against the backdrop of the divestiture rule,” that Griggs rule I mentioned earlier, which provides that district courts are divested of authority to proceed with matters implicated by the appeal. Congress's creation of an immediate arbitrability appeal right ensured that district courts would be divested of authority to proceed to the merits while the appeal proceeds.” And Coinbase quotes Judge Easterbrook’s opinion for the Seventh Circuit, saying the “divestiture rule ‘is fundamental to a hierarchical judiciary.’ It ‘fosters judicial economy’ and guards against ‘confusion and inefficiency that would result if two courts’ purported to exercise jurisdiction over related matters simultaneously.”

Thanks to Shane Creason for excellent research assistance.

Greg Stohr of Bloomberg News discusses the crypto side of this case.

[1] 9 U.S.C. §§ 3, 4.

[2] 9 U.S.C. § 16(a)(1)(A) (B) (stating that “[a]n appeal may be taken from . . . an order . . . refusing a stay of any action under section 3 of this title” and an order “denying a petition under section 4 of this title to order arbitration to proceed.”); id. § 16(a)(1)(C) (stating that “[a]n appeal may be taken from . . . an order . . . denying an application under section 206 of this title to compel [international] arbitration”);

[3] 9 U.S.C. § 16(b) (denying interlocutory appeals of “an interlocutory order . . . granting a stay of any action under section 3 [or] . . . directing arbitration to proceed under section 4 of this title.”)

[4] Bielski v. Coinbase, Inc., No. C 21-07478 WHA, 2022 WL 1062049, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 8, 2022).

[5] More specifically, the district court said the arbitration agreement’s delegation clause and “unilaterality” throughout the arbitration provisions permeated the whole with unconscionability. Id. at 6-7. Consequently, the court concluded that it could not sever the unconscionable terms and denied Coinbase’s motion. Id. at 7-8.

[6] Joint Petition for Writ of Certiorari, Coinbase, Inc., Petitioner, v. Abraham Bielski, Respondent; Coinbase, Inc., Petitioner, v. David Suski, et al., Respondents., 2022 WL 3107708 (U.S.), 8 (“district court recognized ‘that reasonable minds may differ over’ its refusal to compel arbitration, but it nonetheless decided that a stay was unwarranted because ‘Coinbase is a large company,’ while ‘Bielski is a single individual,’ and he ‘would suffer if forced to wait for a remedy.’”)

[7] Bielski v. Coinbase, Inc., No. 22-15566, 2022 WL 3095991, at *1 (9th Cir. July 11, 2022); See also Suski v. Coinbase, Inc., No. 22-15209, 2022 WL 3099846, at *1 (9th Cir. May 27, 2022).

[8] Joint Petition for Writ of Certiorari, Coinbase, Inc., Petitioner, v. Abraham Bielski, Respondent; Coinbase, Inc., Petitioner, v. David Suski, et al., Respondents., 2022 WL 3107708 (U.S.), cert. granted, 143 S. Ct. 521 (2022).

[9] Brief for Respondent Abraham Bielski.

[10] 459 U.S. 56, 58 (1982).

[11] Britton v. Co-op Banking Grp., 916 F.2d 1405, 1412 (9th Cir. 1990) 

[12] Id. (citations omitted).

[13] Bradford-Scott Data Corp. v. Physician Comput. Network, Inc., 128 F.3d 504, 505(7th Cir. 1997).

Monday, March 14, 2022

Arbitration of Cases Involving Sexual Assault or Sexual Harassment Claims


On March 3, 2022, President Biden signed into law the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021 (the “Act”) amending the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) to allow employees alleging claims of sexual assault and sexual harassment to bring such claims in federal, state, or tribal court regardless of whether they signed an arbitration agreement with their employer. The Act applies retroactively to arbitration agreements formed before the Act was passed, as it applies “with respect to any dispute or claim that arises or accrues on or after the date of enactment of this Act.” 

The Act may apply to claims other than sexual harassment or assault claims if those other claims are brought by the employee in the same case in which the employee brings the sexual harassment or assault claims. Section 402 of the Act governs not just sexual misconduct claims, but cases that relate to such disputes. “[N]o predispute arbitration agreement or predispute joint-action waiver shall be valid or enforceable with respect to a case which . . . relates to the sexual assault dispute or the sexual harassment dispute.” This suggests courts should not sever the sexual misconduct claims, while sending other claims to arbitration. 

The bill’s wording will encourage workers to add claims of sexual assault to avoid having their cases sent to arbitration, said Ohio State law professor Sarah Rudolph Cole, according to Bloomberg Law.

The Act also bypasses delegation clauses, and perhaps the separability doctrine, by providing “The applicability of this chapter to an agreement to arbitrate and the validity and enforceability of an agreement to which this chapter applies shall be determined by a court, rather than an arbitrator, irrespective of whether the party resisting arbitration challenges the arbitration agreement specifically or in conjunction with other terms of the contract containing such agreement, and irrespective of whether the agreement purports to delegate such determinations to an arbitrator.”


Sunday, November 28, 2021

Arbitration with Lawyers as Debtors and their Cases as Collateral (Litigation Finance)

Arbitration and Secured Transactions two of your favorite things? 

No? Well as a lawyer, you might want to understand them, anyhow.

Litigation finance for plaintiffs' lawyers sometimes involves the lawyer granting the financier a security interest in the lawyer's cut of judgments and settlements the lawyer's cases win. The contracts can be tricky, though. For instance, a report for Bloomberg Law examined contracts with high interest rates, usually around 18% to 22%, that might be illegal (usurious) if the financier had recourse against the debtor/lawyer, but the contracts are non-recourse, which means the financer can only seek repayment from its collateral--the lawyer's cut of judgments and settlements.

However, in some of these contracts "a default converts the deal to a recourse loan—triggering repayment whether the underlying cases win or lose."

Moreover, some of these agreements may define the collateral very broadly. As Bloomberg writes, "Many of these contracts include a list of specific cases that it says are subject to the terms of the agreement. Yet many of the same contracts elsewhere appear to contradict that concept, saying the firm will provide 'all cases as collateral' including all fees the firm 'now is or may hereafter become entitled to receive.'” 

Secured Transactions students will recognize this as an after-acquired property clause--routine in financing inventory and accounts.

And many of these contracts have arbitration clauses. Why would financiers want to bring these breach of contract (or "debt collection") actions in arbitration rather than litigation? After winning a judgment, they'll still have to go to court to confirm and enforce the judgment.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Rules for Mass Individual Arbitrations

 Arbitration agreements precluding class actions or classwide arbitrations have become common since the Supreme Court's Concepcion case. This has led some enterprising plaintiffs' lawyers to file many virtually identical arbitration cases on behalf of a group of consumers or employees.

The American Arbitration Association now has rules to address such multiple case filings.

The International Institute for Conflict Prevention & Resolution (CPR) also has rules for such mass employment claims.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Arbitration and Replevin in Secured Credit Agreements

Security agreements--in which Debtor grants Creditor a security interest in goods as collateral--often include arbitration clauses, which can lead to interesting clashes between arbitration and the important creditor's remedy of replevin. When Debtor defaults, Creditor can get a court to issue a Writ of Replevin instructing the sheriff to take the collateral from Debtor and give possession of it to Creditor so Creditor may then hold a foreclosure sale of it. Suppose though, that Debtor appears in court and argues that the court may not issue a writ of replevin because the security agreement requires arbitration of disputes and Debtor asserts the existence of a dispute with Creditor--such as a dispute about the amount of money Debtor owes or whether Creditor is acting in a commercially reasonable manner.

Creditors typically want a writ of replevin quickly and will not want such a writ delayed by having to arbitrate something first. So Creditor may rely on an old case like Lease Plan Fleet Corp. v. Johnson Transp., Inc., 67 Misc. 2d 822, 823, 324 N.Y.S.2d 928, 929–30 (Sup. Ct. 1971), which stated: “After the vehicles are replevied the replevin action may be stayed pending the determination of the arbitrator. It has been held that an agreement to arbitrate will not preclude a party to the agreement from obtaining a warrant of attachment. Similarly, the agreement to arbitrate should not preclude the petitioner from replevying the leased vehicles pursuant to CPLR 7102.”

Or Creditor may have drafted the security agreement to carve-out replevin actions from the agreement to arbitrate. For instance the following clause might be interpreted to include not just Creditor's self-help repossession, but also a replevin action:

“Dispute” does not include any repossession of the Vehicle upon Your default and any exercise of the power of sale of the Vehicle under this Contract or any individual action by You to prevent Us from using any such remedy, so long as such individual action does not involve a request for monetary relief of any kind. 

Gillette v. Serv. Intelligence LLC, No. 19-C-275, 2019 WL 5268570, at *1 (E.D. Wis. Oct. 17, 2019). 

Such a carve-out was enforced in Hamilton v. Ford Motor Credit Co., 99 Ark.App. 124 (Ct. App.
 2007), which affirmed a trial court's grant of replevin and denial of the debtor's motion to compel arbitration:

The trial court did not err when it denied the Hamiltons’ request to arbitrate the issue of replevin. This is true because the arbitration clause specifically, and unambiguously, provides that FMC does not give up the ‘‘[r]ight to enforce the security interest in the vehicle, whether by repossession or through a court of law.’’ In its replevin request, FMC is simply enforcing its security interest in the vehicle by seeking to repossess the vehicle.

But even if the arbitration agreement carves out replevin actions, Debtor may still be able to prevent a writ of replevin until arbitration occurs. That is because many creditors--perhaps unknowingly--draft arbitration agreements sending to arbitrators the question whether an arbitrable dispute exists. Creditors do this when they agree to arbitrate under the Commercial Rules of the American Arbitration Association or similar rules of JAMS.   
See, e.g., Contec Corp. v. Remote Solution, Co., 398 F.3d 205, 208 (2d Cir.2005) (“[W]hen . . . parties explicitly incorporate rules that empower an arbitrator to decide issues of arbitrability, the incorporation serves as clear and unmistakable evidence of the parties’ intent to delegate such issues to an arbitrator.”); Citifinancial, Inc. v. Newton, 359 F.Supp.2d 545, 549–52 (S.D.Miss.2005) (holding that by agreeing to be bound by procedural rules of AAA, including rule giving arbitrator power to rule on his or her own jurisdiction, defendant agreed to arbitrate questions of jurisdiction before arbitrator); Sleeper Farms v. Agway, Inc., 211 F.Supp.2d 197, 200–03 (D.Me.2002)(since the AAA rules constitute “a clear and unmistakable delegation of scope-determining authority to an arbitrator,” the court “refers this dispute” to the arbitrator “to determine * * * what issues * * * are covered by the arbitration clause.”)

See also JAMS Comprehensive Arbitration Rules and Procedures, Rule 11(c) (“Jurisdictional and arbitrability disputes, including disputes over the formation, existence, validity, interpretation or scope of the agreement under which Arbitration is sought, and who are proper Parties to the Arbitration, shall be submitted to and ruled on by the Arbitrator. The Arbitrator has the authority to determine jurisdiction and arbitrability issues as a preliminary matter.”), available at 11; Monex Deposit Co. v. Gilliam, 616 F.Supp.2d 1023, 1025 (C.D.Cal.2009) (granting motion to compel arbitration and noting that agreement “incorporates JAMS Rules providing that the arbitrator decides scope and validity disputes with respect to particular claims.”); Greenspan v. Ladt, LLC, 111 Cal.Rptr.3d 468, 494–95 (Ct.App.2010)(“LADT interprets the concluding language of Rule 11(c) to mean the arbitrator makes an initial decision on arbitrability, and, later, the courts independently make the final decision. Not so. For one thing, LADT’s interpretation would conflict with JAMS Rule 11(a), which provides that “[t]he resolution of the issue by the Arbitrator shall be final.” * * * [T]he arbitrator decides arbitrability issues at the outset, and his decision is final.”)

These holdings are perhaps strengthened by the Supreme Court's unanimous 2019 opinion in Henry Schein, Inc. v. Archer & White Sales, Inc., which held that if an arbitration agreement (or the rules it incorporates) sends to arbitrators (rather than judges) the issue of which disputes the parties agreed to arbitrate, then a court cannot refuse to enforce that agreement by finding "wholly groundless" the argument that the particular dispute is covered by the arbitration agreement.

Thanks to terrific Secured Transactions casebook authors Lynn LoPucki and Bob Lawless for getting me to think about these issues, on which my thoughts are still evolving.


Sunday, July 5, 2020

Supreme Court of Canada Refuses to Enforce Uber Contract Requiring Arbitration in Holland

A Canadian Uber driver, Heller, brought a class action against Uber, actually several Uber entities, alleging violations of Canada’s Employment Standards Act. According to the motion judge in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Uber “[d]rivers in Ontario do not enter into contracts with Uber Technologies Inc. [incorporated in Delaware] or Uber Canada Inc. The Drivers rather create an internet account and a contractual relationship with Uber B.V. and with Rasier Operations B.V. and, or Uber Portier B.V.” Each of those Uber entities is incorporated under the laws of the Netherlands. Uber’s form contract for drivers says it shall be governed by the laws of the Netherlands, and that any dispute not resolved in mediation:

“shall be exclusively and finally resolved by arbitration under the Rules of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce (“ICC Arbitration Rules”) …. The Place of the arbitration shall be Amsterdam, The Netherlands.” 

The motion judge granted Uber’s motion to stay the class proceedings in favor of arbitration in the Netherlands, relying on Canada’s International Commercial Arbitration Act, which implements the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention).  

The Court of Appeal of Ontario set aside the lower court’s order, and allowed Heller to litigate, rather than arbitrate, the class action. The Court of Appeal emphasized that the ICC’s “up-front administrative/filing-related costs for a driver to participate in the mediation-arbitration process in the Netherlands prescribed in the Arbitration Clause is US$14,500. As an UberEATS driver, the appellant earns about $20,800-$31,200 per year, before taxes and expenses.” The Court of Appeal held that the arbitration agreement “constitutes a contracting out of the Employment Standards Act “ which permits a driver to make a complaint the Ministry of Labour regarding the actions of Uber and their possible violation of the requirements of the ESA.” The arbitration agreement “deprives [the driver] of the right to have an ESO investigate his complaint.” The Court of Appeal noted that the driver “has not, in fact, chosen to make a complaint under the ESA but rather has commenced this proposed class action”, but held that this did not under the court’s conclusion that the arbitration agreement impermissibly contracted out of the ESA.

As an independent ground for denying enforcement to the arbitration clause, the Court of Appeal held the clause unconscionable.

The Supreme Court of Canada agreed with the Court of Appeal that the arbitration clause is unenforceable: “This is an arbitration agreement that makes it impossible for one party to arbitrate. It is a classic case of unconscionability.” The Supreme Court’s opinion contains a lengthy discussion of the unconscionability doctrine, featuring some differences of opinion among the justices.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Supreme Court Permits Non-signatory to Enforce International Commercial Arbitration Agreement

The US Supreme Court recently permitted a party that did not sign an arbitration agreement to enforce it in GE Energy Power Conversion France SAS, Corp. v. Outokumpu Stainless USA, LLC.

With contracts including arbitration clauses, ThyssenKrupp hired F.L. Industries to perform construction on ThyssenKrupp’s Alabama steel plant. F.L. Industries then subcontracted with GE Energy to provide motors for the project. Later, ThyssenKrupp sold the plant to Outokumpu Stainless USA, LLC. Outokumpu alleged breach by GE Energy because the motors failed. Outokumpu and its insurers sued GE Energy in Alabama state court.

GE Energy removed the case to federal court under 9 U.S.C. § 205, which allows removal if a case “relates to an arbitration agreement . . . falling under the Convention” on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, aka the New York Convention.

GE Energy then moved to dismiss the case and compel arbitration, relying on the arbitration clauses in ThyssenKrupp’s contracts with F. L. Industries. The district court granted the motion, but the Eleventh Circuit reversed, holding that the New York Convention only requires courts to enforce an arbitration agreement if asked to do so by the parties that actually signed the agreement, but GE Energy (a nonsignatory) was not such a party. The Eleventh Circuit stated: “GE Energy is undeniably not a signatory to the Contracts . . . [p]rivate parties—here Outokumpu and Fives—cannot contract around the Convention’s requirement that the parties actually sign an agreement to arbitrate their disputes in order to compel arbitration. Accordingly, we hold that, to compel arbitration, the Convention requires that the arbitration agreement be signed by the parties before the Court or their privities.” 902 F.3d 1316, 1326 (11th Cir. 2018) (citations omitted).

The US Supreme Court rejected the Eleventh Circuit’s interpretation of the New York Convention, and unanimously held that the Convention does not conflict with domestic equitable estoppel doctrines that sometimes permit the enforcement of arbitration agreements by non-signatories.  The Supreme Court held that these domestic state-law principles apply to an international arbitration agreement under the domestic (Chapter 1) portion of the Federal Arbitration Act because Chapter 1 applies to actions that are governed by the Convention as long as Chapter 1 does not conflict with the Convention. The Court concluded that Chapter 1’s allowance of equitable estoppel did not conflict with the Convention because the Convention is silent on enforcement by a non-signatory. A wide variety of courts have interpreted FAA Chapter 1 to allow enforcement of arbitration agreements through various state-law  principles like “assumption, piercing the corporate veil, alter ego . . .” In Arthur Andersen LLP v. Carlisle, the Supreme Court held Chapter 1 allows “a nonsignatory to rely on state-law equitable estoppel doctrines to enforce an arbitration agreement.” 556 U.S. 624, 63132 (2009). Equitable estoppel “allows a nonsignatory to a written agreement containing an arbitration clause to compel arbitration where a signatory to the written agreement must rely on the terms of that agreement in asserting its claims against the non-signatory.”

Justice Thomas’s opinion for the Court in GE Energy reasoned that the New York Convention’s silence on these doctrines for non-signatories to enforce arbitration agreements is dispositive because nothing in the Convention can be read to otherwise prohibit the application of these domestic doctrines. The Court went on to find that nothing in the Convention suggests that it prevents contracting states from applying domestic law that permits non-signatories to enforce arbitration agreements in additional circumstances.

The Supreme Court remanded the issue of whether GE Energy could enforce the arbitration clauses under principles of equitable estoppel or which body of law governs that interpretation to the Court of Appeals.

Further commentary on this GE Energy Power case is available in The National Law Review, The American Bar Association, Willamette University College of Law, Jurist, JD Supra, and Lexology.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Symposium on Labor and Employment Arbitration

Jaime Fell and everyone at #PennStateLaw organized this symposium as well as any I’ve seen. I learned a ton from Mark Gough’s data, and the abilities of each of the other speakers--Jill Gross, Rick Bales, and Ted St. Antoine—to draw on their experiences in the trenches of arbitration as well as their broader perspectives as prolific scholars.

9:30 AM — Professor Theodore J. St. Antoine's Presentation on "Making Arbitration a Fair and Accessible Remedial Process"

10:00 AM — Professor Stephen Ware's Presentation on "Labor Arbitration's Differences"

10:30 AM — Professor Richard Bales' Presentation on "What Makes a 'Reasoned' Arbitration Award?"

11:15 AM — Lunch

12:00 PM — Professor Jill I. Gross' Presentation on "The Final Frontier: Are Class Action Waivers in Arbitration Clauses in Broker-Dealer Employment Agreements Enforceable?"

12:30 PM — Professor Mark Gough's Presentation on "Employment Disputes in Mandatory Arbitration and Civil Litigation: Comparing Outcomes and Stakeholder Perceptions."

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

My New Arbitration Book

Hot off the presses, a thoroughly updated Arbitration casebook by Stephen Ware and Alan Scott Rau:

Available from Amazon, this book discusses arbitration law and practice clearly and reliably, with engaging context ranging from partisan political battles to a Justin Bieber tweet. Balanced and comprehensive, the book covers major types of arbitration in the United States―commercial (including securities and trade associations), labor, employment, consumer, insurance, medical, and religious―as well as important types of international arbitration, such as commercial, maritime, investment, and sports. A carefully constructed teaching tool, Arbitration intersperses contemporary disputes―involving Uber’s app, Donald Trump’s confidentiality agreement, Jay-Z’s impact on arbitrator diversity, and the relationship between gender and biology―among:

  • All the major Supreme Court cases from 1953 through 2019;
  • Current case law on evolving topics, such as delegation clauses, contracts formed by clicking links on cell phones, and substitutes for the class actions limited by Concepcion;
  • The full text of the Federal Arbitration Act, New York Convention, and Panama Convention;
  • Chapters divided into short, coherent sections suitable for a single class session; and
  • “Questions to Review and Synthesize” after the reading for each class session.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

PBS Video on Employment Arbitration

This PBS documentary provocatively entitled "How Forced Arbitration Tipped the Scales" traces employment arbitration controversies from Wall Street in the 1990's to the #MeToo era. Appearances by lawyers Cliff Palefsky and Alan Kaplinsky.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Harvard Law Seminar on "Forced Arbitration"

The instructor, Deepak Gupta, is a principal at Gupta Wessler PLLC, an appellate boutique in Washington, DC, and a former Senior Counsel at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "He has represented consumers, workers, and small merchants in key cases on forced arbitration before the U.S. Supreme Court, including AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion and American Express v. Italian Colors" according to the Harvard course description.

For my arguments against the phrase "forced arbitration", see p.43 of The Centrist Case for Enforcing Adhesive Arbitration Agreements, 23 Harvard Negotiation Law Review 29 (2017)

Thursday, September 26, 2019

House Passes Bill to Ban Consumer and Employment Pre-Dispute Arbitration Agreements

The U.S. House of Representatives approved the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal (FAIR) Act, 225-186, last Friday, September 20, 2019. The FAIR Act would amend the Federal Arbitration Act to state that “no predispute arbitration agreement or predispute joint-action waiver shall be valid or enforceable with respect to an employment dispute, consumer dispute, or civil rights dispute.” In effect, this act bans adhesive arbitration agreements in many employment and consumer transactions.  The act would also invalidate similar current arbitration agreements for disputes that arise after the law goes into effect. 

The White House has issued a statement opposing the passage of the FAIR Act. Alan Kaplinsky writes "The Senate currently consists of 51 Republicans, 47 Democrats, and 2 independents who caucus with the Democrats.  Given that there are at least two Republican Senators who would likely support the FAIR Act (Senators Graham and Kennedy), there could be enough votes in the Senate to pass the FAIR Act.  For that reason,  it is comforting to know that President Trump would veto the FAIR Act.  Should he do so, it is very doubtful that there would be enough votes in the Senate to override the veto."

Opposition to the FAIR Act by Jennifer Braceras in The Hill. Support for it in HuffPo and Vox

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Employee Remaining on the Job is Assent to Arbitration Agreement

The California Court of Appeals in Diaz v. Sohnen Enterprises, Inc. overturned a district court decision denying a motion to compel arbitration agreement.

Sohnen Enterprises held a meeting at which it informed employees that it was introducing a new arbitration agreement. Sohnen told employees that if they chose not to sign the new agreement but continued to work then that would mean they accepted the arbitration agreement. Erika Diaz refused to sign the arbitration agreement but continued to work for Sohnen from December 2 to 23. She then had her lawyer send her employer a letter saying that she planned to keep working but did not accept the arbitration agreement. After bringing a workplace discrimination case, Diaz challenged the employer’s motion to compel arguing that she never assented to the new agreement. The court of appeals, over a dissent, disagreed saying that her decision to continue work was an implied assent to the agreement. By the time her lawyer sent a letter Diaz was already bound.

National Law Review and Manatt discuss the case.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Delegation Clauses in Arbitration Agreements

The Missouri Supreme Court analyzed delegation clauses in  State ex rel. Newberry v. Jackson, 2019 WL 2181859 (May 21, 2019). Employees bringing a workplace discrimination claim challenged the delegation provision in an arbitration agreement contained in an employment contract. The employment contact at issue here incorporated the AAA rules, which delegate decisions about enforceability to the arbitrator. The US Supreme Court's decision in Rent-A-Center held that delegation clauses are severable from arbitration clauses much as Prima Paint long ago held that  an arbitration agreement is a separate component of a contract and, therefore, to avoid a motion to compel a party needs to challenge the arbitration agreement and not just contract as a whole. The Missouri Supreme Court says that a delegation clause in an arbitration agreement is similar and must be specifically challenged to avoid delegation to the arbitrator. The Court also found that no such specific challenge was made in this case. 

Arbitration Nation goes into more depth on the decision and the issue of separability/delegation as a whole.